Category Archives: Fantasy

Review – A Monster Calls (12a) [2017]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • JA Bayona – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Untitled Jurassic World Sequel

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Fernando Velázquez – The Orphanage, The Impossible, Mama, Crimson Peak, The Invisible Guest

In medieval and early modern times a series of fairy tales came to the fore in European folklore. Based on true or quasi-mythical events, fantastical stories like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Little Mermaid taught children simple, moral lessons that could be adapted to all eras to help them deal with their problems. JA Boyena’s brilliant, A Monster Calls has a similar moral to its tale.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

Conor (Lewis MacDougall) looking at the old yew tree in the distance, which is fabled to be a tree that can cure people.

The film is based on the book by Patrick Ness, which itself was inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd. The movie centres round lonely, 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall). His mother (Felicity Jones) is suffering from a terminal illness and he is being bullied at school. With so much going on in his life, Conor needs to find an outlet. One night, while at drawing at his desk, the old yew tree near his house comes alive (voiced by Liam Neeson) and advises him on how to deal with his problems.

A Monster Calls is a wonderful, yet heart-breaking fantasy drama. It is a folktale in all but name, since it handles very real issues and enables our protagonist to confront the unfairness of his situation in a constructive and tender way. Also, narratively, the movie links every element of the story together. By the end, viewers understand why Conor sees this particular monster, why the Monster has its voice, and the significance of the Monster’s advice, among others. This makes A Monster Calls all the more moving to watch.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

Conor with his ailing mother (Felicity Jones), who is trying to reassure Conor that she will be all right.

The movie is delivered with great sensitivity. JA Bayona’s directing is top class and the fantasy parts of the film are always appropriate and never over the top. The script is down to earth and delivered with the right amount of anger, compassion, and bluntness, depending upon the scene. The cast must be commended for this; especially, young Lewis MacDougall. He spends much time on screen alone (or with a CGI monster) and he manages to hold the audience’s attention due to the strength of his acting. This is no easy feat (one need only watch Jayden Smith’s awful performance in After Earth to realise how talented an actor must be to keep viewers interested when he/she is alone on screen). If he continues to perform so well in the future, MacDougall will be a star.

But MacDougall is not the only one who shines. Felicity Jones gives a genuine and heart-felt performance, putting a good spin on her diagnosis for her son despite looking worryingly worse as the film progresses. Similarly, Sigourney Weaver performs splendidly as a grandmother locked in a bygone era, trying to come to terms with losing her daughter and having to look after her grandson. Toby Kebbell, too, does a good job as a man who is not the sharpest pencil in the packet academically, but has emotional intelligence and is trying to do his best for Conor, in spite of his character’s impossible predicament.

If the circumstances aren’t enough to touch people, Fernando Velázquez’s music will do enough to induce lumps in viewers’ throats. His score is subtle and tugs at the heart, thereby giving an added dimension to the pain that our protagonists are suffering, particularly Conor.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnie's terminator, urging it to save his mother.

Conor facing the (Liam Neeson-voiced) Monster, which looks like a cross between Treebeard from Lord of the Rings and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, urging the Monster to save his mother.

Nevertheless, what is it that Conor is actually suffering from? If A Monster Calls has a flaw, it is that the film vocalises Conor’s pain. This comes across as tell-heavy and unnecessary. Just as the timeless fairy tales did not spell out the moral message of their stories, the movie would have been better served if it would have let audiences infer its message. Yet, this is nip-picking as the film should be enjoyed for the wonder that it is.

All-in-all, A Monster Calls is a fabulous, tear-jerking movie. It has a splendid plot, a cast that fulfil their roles superbly, and it finely blends reality and fantasy. What’s more, A Monster Calls has a strong moral message. This is what makes it a twenty-first century fairy tale, comparable to the classic folklore stories. The film offers children a coping mechanism for when they are confronted with a horrible reality.

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Review – Macbeth (15) [2015]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

To look back is a double-edged sword. To look back upon one’s achievements, mistakes and losses in order to grow as a person and to build a better future is important and valuable. Nevertheless, to look back longingly fetters an individual. Justin Kurzel’s take on Macbeth illustrates how looking back longingly can manifest itself in a variety of negative ways on people and impair them.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a battle.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a (cloudy) battle in the Scottish Highlands.

Kurzel’s Macbeth is based on the play, written by William Shakespeare. Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor (Michael Fassbender), receives a prophecy from three witches. They tell him that one day he will become King of Scotland and that no man of woman born will be able to kill him… although, they do warn him to be wary of Macduff (Sean Harris). Consumed by ambition and urged on by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth acts to fulfil the prophecy. But at what cost?

Macbeth is a compelling and gripping film. Central to this are the performances. David Thewlis as Duncan is decent, and Sean Harris as Macduff is very good as usual. Yet, it is the two main performers that stand out. Both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are riveting. One may not always understand what they say since the movie is in Shakespearean English. But due to the strength and rawness of their performances, viewers can feel the emotion behind their words and, therefore, understand their actions.

It helps that audiences can empathise with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth straight from the off. Macbeth begins with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffering a tragic loss, and this loss never leaves them. No matter what they achieve, they are always looking back upon this loss and it devours them.

That this scene is not in the original script that Shakespeare wrote should not be of concern, even to play purists. In the play, this tragedy for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is mentioned, so it is part of the story. But by showing the event and making it the opening scene of the film, Kurzel gives the event a gravitas that is lacking in the original play.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter's arrival at Cordor.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter’s arrival at Cawdor.

This alteration from the source material is not the only instance in which Kurzel plays fast and loose with Shakespeare’s version of the story. Nonetheless, for play purists to put too much stress on the alterations would be to miss what Kurzel keeps and enhances from the original play. What’s more, unlike other adaptations which have given Macbeth a more modern slant (for example, the 2013 London theatre production starring James McAvoy as the titular character), Kurzel has made his 2015 film adaptation more medieval. Consequently, the movie is bloody, grisly and muddy; all of which is fitting for the story.

In addition, with the Scottish Highlands for the main setting, Kurzel has increased the authenticity of the play. The landscapes are apt and wondrous (perhaps even worth fighting for). Yet, the weather is grim, windy and rainy. These conditions breed miserable, nasty people who are devoid of humour. Indeed, the entire movie is devoid of humour and somehow that feels right.

Indeed, Kurzel gets much right. However, his version of Macbeth is not without its flaws: the movie should have been longer than 113-minutes, and some key scenes are missing; the first twenty minutes are heavily edited, to point that one could easily believe that Kurzel has ADD; the battles are underwhelming, difficult to see, and rely too much on (300-style) slow-motion followed by super-fast, killer moves; and the final scene is jarringly out of sync with medieval times.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Nevertheless, even in the scenes where Kurzel does not get everything right, one can still be overcome by the music. The score has been written by Justin’s brother, Jed, and it resonates deeply with audiences. The music enables one to feel Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s triumphs. Yet, in the same beat, it also enables one to feel as if the couple are looking back longingly at the loss that they cannot get over.

Over-all, Macbeth is a really impressive film. The movie is not without its problems as it should have been longer, while the first twenty minutes and the last scenes should have been handled better. All the same, there is much to admire about Kurzel’s Macbeth from its gritty realism of Scotland in the late-medieval period, to the alterations that Kurzel has made from the original source material, to the astonishing performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Undoubtedly, Fassbender and Cotillard make up the best elements of the film. They depict the strength and ambition of the two characters, as well as their tragic natures. They do this by presenting what can happen to us if we look back longingly for something we’ve lost. Fassbender and Cotillard show us that this loss will eat away at us and undermine everything we achieve, even if we achieve all that we desire and more.

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Review – Seventh Son (12a) [2015]

Seventh Son - Title Banner

Star Rating: 1.5/5

Director:

  • Sergey Bodrov – Prisoner of the Mountains, Nomad: The Warrior, Mongol: Rise of Genghis Khan, Fool’s Game

Cast:

  • Julianne Moore – The Big Lebowski, The Hours, Maps To The Stars, Still Alice, Freeheld
  • Jeff Bridges – The Big Lebowski, Iron Man, True Grit, RIPD, The Emperor’s Children
  • Kit Harrington – Game of Thrones, Testament of Youth, Pompeii, Spooks: The Greater Good
  • Olivia Williams – The Sixth Sense, Maps To The Stars, Anna Karenina, Man Up
  • Ben Barnes – The Chronicles of Narnia II & III, Dorian Gray, By The Gun, Sons of Liberty
  • Alicia Vikander – A Royale Affair, Anna Karenina, Testament of Youth, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl
  • Djimon Hounsou – Gladiator, Eragon, Blood Diamond, Guardians of the Galaxy, Furious 7
  • Antje Traue – Pandorum, 5 Days of War, Man of Steel, Woman In Gold

Music Composer:

There are some films that can be boxed into the category of ‘laughably terrible.’ Batman & Robin, Birdemic, Season of the Witch, Conan The Barbarian, Sharknado, and Pompeii are all awful films, yet they all have the saving grace of being amusing in their awfulness. Sergey Bodrov’s Seventh Son is another such movie.

Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), having returned, she is now back at home, planning her evil ambitions for the world.

Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), having returned, she is now back at home, planning her evil ambitions for the world.

Seventh Son is based on the first book in The Wardstone Chronicles (although it is called The Last Apprentice series in America) by Joseph Delaney. Delaney’s website, Spooksbooks, defines the plot for Seventh Son as: ‘In a time long past, an evil is about to be unleashed that will reignite the war between the forces of the supernatural and humankind once more. John Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a Spook, a person who fights against the Dark, who had imprisoned the malevolently powerful witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), centuries ago. But now she has escaped and is seeking vengeance. Summoning her followers of every incarnation, Mother Malkin is preparing to unleash her terrible wrath on an unsuspecting world. Only one thing stands in her way: John Gregory.

‘In a deadly reunion, Gregory comes face to face with the evil he always feared would someday return. Now he has only until the next full moon to do what usually takes years: train his new apprentice, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), to fight a dark magic unlike any other. Man’s only hope lies in the seventh son of a seventh son.’

Yes, the plot is that laughable. It is plodding and silly, with predictable twists and a waterfall of fantasy clichés thrown into the mire. Indeed, there are so many fantasy clichés in Seventh Son that it is hard to believe that the film is anything other than an inferior derivative of other (better) fantasy stories. But unlike with other (irredeemably bad) fantasy films, like Reign of Fire and Rise of the Shadow Warrior, at least with Seventh Son one can enjoy pointing out where James Delaney/Sergey Bodrov have gained their inspiration from. In some scenes, the inspiration is so blatant one might as well re-watch or reread the works JRR Tolkien, Susan Cooper and David Eddings, and Dungeons & Dragons and Season of the Witch for good measure (to name but five). Some of the ideas in those stories might be bad or badly executed by today’s standards. But they were originals, if not classics, in their time.

Tom (Ben Barnes) and John Gregory (Jeff Bridges), pupil and mentor, going from place to place in classic fantasy style.

Tom (Ben Barnes) and John Gregory (Jeff Bridges), pupil and mentor, going from place to place in classic fantasy style.

Yet, if one thought the storyline for Seventh Son was the most ludicrous element of the movie, it pales in comparison to the dialogue. Unsurprisingly, the dialogue is lazily-written, clunky and hackneyed. But, at times, it is delivered with a campiness that one cannot help but laugh at, with Jeff Bridges being the Offender-in-Chief. Playing a cross between Gandalf and Rooster Cogburn, Bridges is barely comprehensible. Yet, he has a smile on his face for the entire film and looks like he is enjoying himself enormously in spite of (or maybe because of) the paucity of the script.

The same, however, cannot be said for the rest of the cast. Julianne Moore, habitually brilliant (and particularly so in the recent Still Alice), is shockingly dreadful as the one-dimensional, wicked witch. Appearing as a cut-rate cross between Queen Ravenna from Snow White and a latex rip-off of Melisandre from Game of Thrones, Moore looks bored at best and embarrassed at worst whenever she is on screen. Olivia Williams, Kit Harrington, Alicia Vikander, Djimon Hounsou and Ben Barnes all wear similar expressions during Seventh Son. It is as if this predominantly talented cast all know that they’re in a movie that stinks to the stratosphere and are just pleading for their scenes to be over so they can pick up their pay-checks and move on.

Alice (Alicia Vikander) rising seductively in the lake to entrance someone (I wonder who?) with her beauty.

Alice (Alicia Vikander) rising seductively in the moonlight to entrance someone (I wonder who?) with her beauty.

Likely, the cast had moved on and forgotten about this car-crash of a movie… until it returned to haunt them with its release in cinemas recently. Seventh Son was filmed in 2012 and was in post-production for more than two and a half years. The movie was supposed to have come out in 2013 and then in 2014, but was delayed on three occasions due to post-production troubles. Oddly, though, Seventh Son does not feel like a troubled production (unlike Transformers II, The Wolverine and The Hobbit III). It just feels wretched, pitifully comical and cheap, especially when it comes to the CGI. For a film which cost Legendary studios near $100million to make, one expects to watch a better movie, and consequently it is no surprise that the film has flopped. (Legendary studios expect to make an $85million loss on the movie.)

All-in-all, Seventh Son is an all-round awful film. From the script, to the acting, to the CGI, the movie is abysmal and filled with enough fantasy clichés to stuff a duvet. Nevertheless, the film has one saving grace: it is unintentionally hilarious. Thus, Seventh Son can be boxed into the category of ‘laughably terrible’ and can be enjoyed for the atrocity that it is alongside Batman & Robin, Birdemic, Season of the Witch, Conan The Barbarian, Sharknado, and Pompeii.

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Review – The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug (12a) [2013]

The Hobbit II - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Lovely Bones, The Hobbit IIII, The Adventures of Tintin II

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The OfficeThe World’s End, Sherlock, Fargo
  • Ian McKellen – Apt PupilLord of the Rings TrilogyX-Men I-IIIX-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Cate Blanchett – Notes On A ScandalBlue Jasmine, Cinderella
  • Richard Armitage – Captain America: The First AvengerBlack Sky, Into The Storm
  • Aiden Turner – Alarm, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
  • Ken Scott – Casanova, Charlie Wilson’s War, One Day
  • Graham McTavish – Rambo, 24: Day 8, Columbiana
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Star Trek II: Into Darkness, The Fifth Estate, 12 Years A Slave
  • Orlando Bloom – The Lord of the Rings I-III, The Kingdom of Heaven, The Good Doctor, Zulu
  • Lee Pace – The Fall, Twilight IV: Breaking Dawn: Part II, Lincoln, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic
  • Evangeline Lilly – Lost, The Hurt Locker, Real Steel
  • Luke Evans – Clash of the Titans, Immortals, The Raven, Dracula Untold
  • Stephen Fry – V For Vendetta, Alice In Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, Once Upon A Time In The Kitchen

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings TrilogyHugo, A Dangerous MethodThe Hobbit IIII

In December 2012, Peter Jackson started audiences on another nine-hour trilogy into Middle Earth, nine years after the last one ended. But anyone expecting The Hobbit Trilogy to be of the same quality as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy should have looked at the size of their respective source materials. With The Hobbit book having less than a third of the pages of The Lord of the Rings, it was unsurprising that The Hobbit I: An Expected Journey was overly-stretched, self-indulgent and stuffed with scenes that added little to the adventure. Well (predictably), The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug suffers from the same syndrome, but it is a vast improvement on its predecessor.

Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Scott) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish, furthest left) looking for a the secret entrance.

Thorin (Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Scott) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish, furthest left) looking for a the secret entrance.

In The Hobbit I, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) left the Shire to help Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves of Erebor reclaim their gold and homeland from Smaug the Dragon. By the end of An Unexpected Journey, after a long and dull trek (that mimicked the journey of the fellowship in The Fellowship of the Ring), some chases, and some fights with goblins and orcs, the eagles rescued Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves, and flew them to within sight of the Lonely Mountain and the ruins of Erebor.

Now, it is up to our new fellowship to make their way to the Lonely Mountain and retrieve the Arkenstone, the legitimising gem for the dwarf king. Yet, in order to regain this precious pearl, someone will have to be brave enough to snatch it from under the clasp of a dragon…

The plot for The Desolation of Smaug is straightforward and fun. The storyline also runs at a much faster pace than that of An Unexpected Journey, which is a good thing (since last time out it took 43 minutes just for Bilbo to leave the Shire).

Another noteworthy matter is that Peter Jackson has somewhat rectified two of the faults of the last film by adding in a major (albeit made up) female character (Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly); and by giving some personality to Balin, Dwalin and Kili so that they can differentiate themselves from Thorin ‘wannabe Aragorn’ Oakenshield and the other nine (synonymous) dwarves.

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the uniquely badass elf, showing the orcs what she's made of.

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the uniquely badass elf, showing the orcs what she’s made of.

Moreover, the dragon has been done superbly well. The special effects, combined with Benedict Cumberbatch’s rich, rumbling voice make the scenes with Smaug some of the most creative dragon scenes ever seen in a movie. Undoubtedly, the arrival of Smaug is one of the best features of The Desolation of Smaug and makes the film worthwhile.

However, in a similar vein to An Unexpected Journey, at 161 minutes The Desolation of Smaug is long. (Couldn’t the eagles have flown the protagonists to the Lonely Mountain and spared us two hours?). Worse, The Hobbit II is bloated with the disapplication of the laws of physics, an overuse of CGI, too many fight scenes, some (Logger’s Leap-style) fairground rides, irrelevant sub-plots from old and new characters, and an unnecessary love triangle (stolen from that wreckage of a pentology known as Twilight) to cap it all. All of these add nothing to the story and should have been edited out.

Yes, the water rides might be as entertaining as the love triangle is contrived and pointless. But there is something troubling about the continued mowing down of the orcs by the protagonists. Why couldn’t Peter Jackson have had our heroes at least try to negotiate peace with the orcs? Is it because the orcs look deformed that they can’t be negotiated with?

One may argue that as no negotiations take place in the source material, it cannot happen in the films. But, first, we are in 2014 (not the 1930s when the book was published, or the 1960s when the book became a sensation, or even 2001 when the first of The Lord of the Rings films came out). And in 2014 peace negotiations with peoples different to our own must be given every chance to succeed. Second, Jackson has changed so much from the book that merely to state the excuse of ‘not in the source material’ is neither convincing nor valid.

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), usurper and desolator of Erebor, awakening from his slumber to reveal his awe-inspiring (and frightening) size.

Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), usurper and desolator of Erebor, awakening from his slumber to reveal his awe-inspiring (and frightening) size.

Perhaps, if Bilbo had posed the above-mentioned questions, it would have enriched the story and given the film a deeper moral dimension. More to the point, it would have been in character with Martin Freeman’s excellent portrayal of Bilbo and made The Desolation of Smaug a more gratifying and thought-provoking film.

Over-all, The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug is a step up from An Unexpected JourneyThe Desolation of Smaug moves at a decent pace; has some, if too many, enjoyable and imaginative action scenes; and a fantastic looking and aptly sounding dragon to make for an entertaining spectacle. Nevertheless, there is no getting away from The Hobbit II’s swollen running time. The Desolation of Smaug, like An Unexpected Journey before it, is burdened by the numerous, purposeless, Jackson-invented side-stories that have ruined all that is good about the first two instalments of The Hobbit Trilogy, and that are also surreptitiously sullying The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

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Review – The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey HFR 3D (12a) [2012]

The Hobbit - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Brain Dead, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, The Hobbit II & III

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The Office, Love, Actually, Svengali
  • Ian McKellen – Apt Pupil, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, X-Men I-III, X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Blue Jasmine
  • Barry Humphries – The Dame Edna Treatment, Finding Nemo, Justin & The Knights of Valour
  • Hugo Weaving – The Matrix Trilogy, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Captain America: The First AvengerTransformers I-III
  • Christopher Lee – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Season of the Witch, The Girl From Nagasaki
  • Richard Armitage – Spooks, Captain America: The First Avenger, Black Sky
  • Ian Holm – Lord of the Rings I & III, Lord of War, Ratatouille
  • Elijah Wood – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Green Street, Open Windows
  • Andy Serkis – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Hugo, The Hobbit II & III

<<guest review by KJF>>

Eleven years after the first of Peter Jackson’s magnificent two Lord of the Rings-related trilogies hit our screens, its prequel has finally arrived. What has alarmed many viewers even before getting into auditoriums to see The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey is that it is three hours long, and only the first of a proposed nine-hour trilogy covering the events of JRR Tolkien’s beloved, but not particularly lengthy children’s book, first published in 1937. The result is that An Unexpected Journey is a lengthened, over-indulgent spectacle that will be welcomed by Middle Earth addicts, but might alienate the average cinemagoer.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) bewildered as the dwarves invade his home unexpectedly and immediately make themselves at home by gobbling down his food and liquer.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) bewildered as the dwarves invade his home unexpectedly and immediately make themselves at home by gobbling down his food and liquor.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is the home-loving hobbit of the title, living in a cozy hole in the ground in the Shire, a rural idyll in the western part of Tolkien’s vast imaginary world. Bilbo’s part of a community of small beings with hairy feet who love the good life, preferring nothing better than eating, drinking, smoking and sleeping.

Bilbo’s personal tranquility is interrupted by the arrival of the wizard, Gandalf ‘the Grey’ (Ian McKellen), followed hot on his heels by a gang of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). The dwarves are desperate to recover their homeland, the kingdom of Erebor, from the clutches of the evil dragon, Smaug, who rather inconsiderately destroyed it all, and who now spends his days drenched in all its treasure. So Bilbo is recruited into the party – as a ‘burglar’ of all things – and the adventure begins.

The early part of the film manages, quite successfully, to recreate the gentle humour of the book. Freeman, so good at playing the everyman (as in TV’s The Office), is an inspired choice as Bilbo, looking on in wondrous, mostly wordless amazement as Gandalf and the dwarves take over his home; the latter gang eating him out of house and hole. But then as events progress (at the aggravating pace of a snail), spectacle and action take over and the early charm is lost.

Yet, the spectacle is truly spectacular! The detailed recreation of Smaug’s attack on Erebor is a wonder to behold, filling the screen with the terrifying destruction he reaps, while only tantalisingly giving us a glimmer of what the monster looks like. There’s much else to goggle at with all the scrapes Bilbo and the party get into: dodging trolls, wargs and orcs overground; as well as goblins underground in the depths of the MistyMountains.

Jackson has, of course, been here before and it’s to be expected that the mise-en-scene of Middle Earth has been beautifully and lavishly re-created. Jackson again fully utilises the picturesque New Zealand landscapes to his advantage.

Bilbo attending a secret council in Rivendell, the home of the elves, along with Thorin (Richard Armitage), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and another dwarf.

Bilbo attending a secret council in Rivendell, the home of the elves, along with Thorin (Richard Armitage), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and another dwarf.

Nevertheless, unlike with Lord of the Rings, Jackson has shot The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at 48-frames-per-second, known as the Higher Frame Rate (HFR), rather than the standard 24-frames-per-second. Although the HFR was meant to make everything appear more realistic, it is more likely to bring about the peculiar feeling of watching a TV programme with a substantially greater budget. Actors might appear very clearly in the foreground, but the computer-generated backgrounds come across as just that: computer-generated! This sadly lessens the ‘reality’ that Jackson was aiming for, and the 3D element doesn’t add much either (other than a few quid onto the ticket price).

It’s a shame that with all the technical innovations Jackson hasn’t focused more on ramping up his creative approach. There are some nice sops to Lord of the Rings fans, particularly having the elder Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) appear at the beginning. After a while though, a sense of déjà-vu creeps in, whether it is in the use of musical riffs from the original trilogy, or the overlong focus on the re-introduction of Gollum (Andy Serkis).

What further acts as a ballast for the film’s 169-minute running time are events and characters not in the original narrative, but picked out from other of Tolkien’s writings. One would have thought that if Jackson had wanted to be so cavalier with the original source material, he would have done something that was truly necessary, such as putting in some more prominent female characters to spice up the narrative. Yet, aside from Cate Blanchett’s brief reprisal as a more-youthful Galadriel, other women in the movie are virtually non-existent. Indeed, Jackson has seemingly forgotten to even put them in the background for the orcs and goblins (which naturally prompts some interesting questions on procreativity).

Gollum (Andy Serkis), enhanced thanks to modern technology, playing a game of riddles with Bilbo.

Gollum (Andy Serkis), enhanced thanks to modern technology, playing a game of riddles with Bilbo.

In all of this, it is also hard to pick out distinctive characters throughout the film. Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo, Ian McKellen once again gives a magisterial performance as Gandalf, and Barry Humphries is great as the voice of the Goblin King. Yet, aside from grumpy Thorin ‘wannabe-Aragorn’ Oakenshield, it’s hard to tell one dwarf from another, since they all seem as one-dimensional, hairy and gruff as the next. Considering that The Hobbit is about the dwarves trying to reclaim their homeland, this is not sufficient.

Thus, Part I of The Hobbit has started us on another unexpected journey through Middle Earth. Already though, after almost three hours (and with another six to go), it feels like we are on a long and bloated trek that possibly has the power to undo all that was good about Lord of the Rings.

KJF

Review – Snow White and the Huntsman (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Hollywood has a thing for bastardising stories. With varying enjoyment, films like Troy, Kingdom of Heaven and Eragon all had little to do with their original narratives to the extent that one might be surprised that their respective creators bothered to keep the right names for the characters. Similarly, Snow White and the Huntsman might be entertaining, but it has little to do with the German folklore tale, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’, that was first written down by Brothers Grimm in 1812.

Queen Ravenna, in all her splendour, furious to learn that there is one fairer than her.

The film opens with three drops of blood falling onto snow after Queen Eleanor (Liberty Ross – Thinly Veiled, W.E.) pricks herself. Eleanor is praying for a beautiful and fair daughter with raven-black hair, and the strength of a red rose against snow. Yet, not long after she gets her wish and gives birth to Snow White (when young played by Raffey Cassidy – Dark Shadows; when of age played by Kristen Stewart – Twilight I-V, On The Road, Still Alice), Eleanor dies. Shortly afterward, King Magnus (Noah Huntley – The Chronicles of Narnia I, Your Highness, Jappeloup) marries Ravenna (Charlize Theron – Monster, Prometheus, Hancock I & II), a woman with terrible supernatural powers to keep her forever looking young and strikingly attractive.

No sooner is the king betrothed to Ravenna she usurps the throne and locks up her young step-daughter. As the years go by, Queen Ravenna regularly turns to her magic mirror to remind herself that she is the fairest of them all. That is, until one day when the mirror tells her that Snow White is fairer. It is then that Ravenna orders her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell – The Hurt Locker, Defiance, Enemy of Man), to bring her the imprisoned princess.

But it is then that Snow White escapes, fleeing to the Dark Forest where Ravenna has no power. So Ravenna hires Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth – Thor I & II, The Avengers Assemble, Red Dawn) to find and kill her…

Snow White and the Huntsman is an enjoyable movie. Set in a medieval-like world (even though the story originates from around the eighteenth-century), the sceneries are fitting, and the towns and villages, not to mention their inhabitants, are filthy in a realistic way for the period.

Snow White, wet and filthy, trying to defend herself against Eric the Huntsman in the Dark Forest.

Nevertheless, the plot has as much accuracy to the Grimm Brother’s tale as Patroclus does being Achilles’ cousin in Troy (when he is meant to be his lover) and Arya having reddish-brown hair in Eragon (when she is meant to have raven-black hair). Indeed, Snow White and the Huntsman has a multitude of storyline deviations, such as Queen Eleanor shedding three drops of blood (since that comes from another folklore story, called ‘Snow White and Rose Red’) and the huntsman being hired by the evil queen to find Snow White (since in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ he helps Snow White escape to the Dark Forest to save her from Ravenna).

Ravenna as the ‘evil queen’ is one of many clichéd characters in the film. On screen, Ravenna rules in a typically cruel manner and is invariably screeching wicked commands at her advisers; Snow White is an idyllic (dull) angel who hardly knows how to hold a knife, let alone kill someone with it; the huntsman is the stupid, axe-wielding, drunken lout turned noble protector of the princess; and the seven dwarves (at least that stays true to the original story) are almost as one-dimensional as in the 1937 Disney cartoon animation.

Thor… Eric the Huntsman ready to bury his axe into anyone attempting to hurt Snow White.

Due to the lack of depth in all of the characters, the cast has little room to show their talents. Oscar-winner Charlize Theron gives a distinctly ordinary performance as Ravenna; Sam ‘Anders Breivik lookalike’ Spruell is nothing short of wimpish and pitiful; Kristen Stewart gives a stronger performance than she does in the Twilight saga, but she only ever has one expression on her face throughout the film, and her pre-battle speech is laughably appalling; Chris Hemsworth’s display is ostensibly the same as his hammer-swinging one in Thor and The Avengers Assemble, just with a humorous Scottish accent and minus the overt arrogance; and Ian McShane (The Golden Compass, Pirates of the Caribbean IV, Jack the Giant Killer), Bob Huskins (Hook, Made In Dagenham, Aleksander Rouge), Ray Winstone (The Departed, Edge of Darkness, The Sweeney), Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Paul, Cuban Fury) and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hunger Games, The Girl) are all funny as the gruff dwarves, but they pale in comparison to Peter Dinklage’s performance as the deeply complex, witty Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones.

All-in-all, Snow White and the Huntsman is an enjoyable film with decent settings and an attractive cast. The actors might give average performances and the characters they portray might be over-simplistic caricatures of good and evil, but it is the movie’s drift away from the original tale that is most striking. Just like with The Iliad, the history of the Third Crusades, and Eragon, Hollywood has shredded a good story in an attempt to make it fit a narrative supposedly more suitable to modern day audiences with a derisible outcome.

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Review – Wrath of the Titans 3D (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

The poverty of Clash of the Titans was so blatant, it was embarrassing. Yet, after making an astonishing near-$500million, Hollywood has (rather unsurprisingly) made a sequel. And with Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls, Battle: Los Angeles, Ninja Turtles) replacing Louis Leterrier as director, Wrath of the Titans is a marked improvement on the first in the series.

Perseus (Sam Worthington), the mortal son of Zeus, taking on a one-eyed giant. Perseus’s hand must be stronger than it looks to hold the giant’s strength at bay.

Wrath of the Titans takes place in ancient Greece, ten years after Perseus defeated the kraken. With his wife now dead, Perseus (Sam Worthington – Clash of the Titans, The Debt, Drift) has to bring up his son, Helius (John Bell – A Shine of Rainbows, Battleship, The Hobbit I-II), alone.

It is then that Zeus (Liam Neeson – Star Wars I, Clash of the Titans, The Dark Knight Rises), Perseus’s father, comes to Earth to warn his son that the gods need the help of the ‘half-gods’ to defeat the storm that is coming in the form of the vengeful titans. With treachery afoot in Tartarus, the underworld in which Hades (Ralph Fiennes – Clash of the Titans, Harry Potter VII(ii), Skyfall) is lord, it is only a matter of time before Cronus, the leader of the titans, unleashes his fury. Perseus will need the help of Hephaestus (Bill Nighy – Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, Harry Potter VII(i), I, Frankenstein), Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike – Die Another Day, An Education, Gone Girl) and her men, as well as the last of the gods and the ‘half-gods’ to defeat the evil that is to strike at ancient Greece.

Yes, the storyline is as ludicrous as that. When a film opens up with a narrator saying that the ancient world was ruled by “gods and monsters,” one has a fairly good idea that he/she is not going to be watching a classic, intellectually-stimulating film (to say the least).

Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the younger brother of Zeus and Lord of the Underworld, holding his pitch fork. Will he side with the evil titans?

Nonetheless, Wrath of the Titans is far from a hundred minutes of painful viewing. To make up for the plot’s (abundant) deficiencies, the film has many fighting scenes and a plethora of pretty good special effects to keep viewers entertained. The clockwork-like structure of the city of Tartarus has been put together exceptionally well, with much creativity and imagination. If there is one redeeming feature of the movie, it is Tartarus. (And it would have looked even better had the producers bothered to put some effort into the 3D.)

In addition, Wrath of the Titans is surprisingly accurate when it comes to informing its audience on certain aspects of ancient Greek mythology, such as how Hades became Lord of the Underworld; and who made his forked-pitch, as well as Zeus’ bolt and Poseidon’s triton.

However, the parts of the movie that have been done well are likely to be forgotten amidst the paucity of the rest of it. The music sounds like a contrived version of the uplifting score used in Transformers I-III. And if the music and the storyline aren’t bad enough, the acting and the dialogue are wooden and shallow. Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Edgar Ramires (The Bourne Ultimatum, Carlos the Jackal, Zero Dark Thirty), playing Ares, and Toby Kebbell (Match Point, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, The East), playing Agenor, are all seemingly unfit for their respective roles (and it’s not as if Worthington hasn’t played a hero before either).

Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) looking good as a warrior queen in boiled leather. Will her army rally to her cause to save ancient Greece from the destruction that will be unleashed with the wrath of the titans?

Moreover, one must wonder why Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and, to some extent, Bill Nighy, who reprises his bizarre Scottish accent that he used in Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, would accept such roles. One almost doesn’t want to see them in these sorts of films as they can only humiliate themselves by doing so. (Seriously, do they need the money that much?)

All-in-all, Wrath of the Titans suffers from similar insufficiencies as Clash of the Titans. The film has a ludicrous storyline, a cast that plays poorly, and an appalling script. Nonetheless, Wrath of the Titans is quite entertaining and an upgrade on the first in the series. Not that that is saying much.

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